The stakes are high in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” the (supposed) grand finale in the trilogy of the story of the misfit team of intergalactic mercenaries. With writer-director James Gunn at the helm, the movie has nary a misstep and feels like a passion project brought to fruition. Despite the film’s bloated length and tendency to embrace nostalgia without an ounce of moderation, it’s a fitting and heartfelt sendoff for the beloved crew.
In this installment, the Guardians embark on a mission to protect an injured Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) from the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a man with whom the fearless raccoon shares a dark, horrifying past. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) rallies his team (Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel) to not only protect one of their own, but to defend the universe from more destruction. It’s a series of rescue missions that, if not completed successfully, could mean the end of the Guardians forever. (In order to avoid revealing spoilers, the description of the plot will be as vague as possible).
There are plenty of big-budget CGI spectacles throughout, but the best parts of the narrative are the ones with real heart. Gunn balances some nicely woven humor with emotional gut punches that lend a sense of gravity to the script. The film tells Rocket’s tragic origin story, which is genuinely moving and heartbreaking, and the entire mission of the Guardians to save their friend hits all the heartstrings. There’s a truckload of sentimentality that’s sometimes over-the-top in its attempts at manipulation, but somehow it never feels hollow.
Much of the credit should go to the cast, who seem to be relishing their (possibly) final film together. The actors seem to be having fun, and their natural rapport just oozes chemistry. I have always asserted that the “Guardians” movies are some of the most well-cast in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and it’s never been more apparent than it is in this film. There’s a mutual respect between the actors on screen and off, and it shows in their work.
In his screenplay, Gunn writes in themes of friendship, family, teamwork, loyalty, and courage. It’s a heavy story about grief and loss, and there’s also a lot of commentary on unethically using animals for experimentation (in the film, it’s shown in a very dark and frightening way). While some of these scenes will undoubtedly scare a fair amount of kids (and upset and equal number of adults), it will hopefully open up a line of dialogue that animals should be loved, respected, and cared for, never abused or tortured.
The fantasy action scenes are as expected, which means they are big, brash, and…brown. They don’t look great and seem too dark. I don’t think much of the action is well-executed at all, but the strength of the characters and story thankfully overshadow the CGI. This is evident in some of the more high-stakes situations that Gunn thrusts his characters into, but remember that this is a Marvel movie after all, so any scene where someone is faced with dire consequences or is put in fatal danger is usually just for show. Most fans of the MCU have been condition to treat these heavy moments with the skepticism they deserve, and it can put a damper on the emotional weight of the story. Not here, because much of the content is genuinely moving.
It’s not often that the final film in a trilogy turns out to be the best, but that’s exactly what’s accomplished by “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” While the darker tone is unexpected, Gunn gives a proper goodbye to the series that will satisfy fans and entertain casual audiences. It isn’t a perfect superhero movie, but it’s one that is definitely better than most.